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Self Belief

Self Belief

The Wallabies may be number two on the starting grid here in Wellington but therein lies a splendid opportunity to get the jump on the world champion All Blacks

The name of this game is self belief.

Start fast, go flat out for the full race and create a real chance to greet the chequered flag in first place. A fanciful over simplification perhaps but it’s also an achievable race plan.

Last week’s Rugby Championship opener at ANZ Stadium in Sydney saw the brilliantly coached All Blacks produce a Kiwi master class in how to grab the lead and then dominate a big match.

It was a massive reality check for expectant Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie and his charges. The Men in Black clinically executed their game plan and ruthlessly seized their chances.

The Wallabies on the other hand had many positive moments but lacked accuracy in their execution and switched off just when they needed to turn up the heat.

I see definite parallels here with the Australian cricketers.

Down 2-0 entering the recent Old Trafford Test, the Aussies were  written off. Yet they won the toss for the first time, batted and dominated every session before jilted by rain with victory in sight.

Like the All Blacks, England had established themselves as the more settled and potent team but when put under pressure they proved to be only human. The glorious uncertainty of sport took centre stage.

In this latest test match at the Oval, despite trailing 3-0 in the series, Australia has jumped out of the blocks. After winning the toss for only the second time they have dictated proceedings.

Beleaguered batsmen Shane Watson and Steve Smith both made  brilliant hundreds. The selectors  backed those two guys and the investment has paid a handsome dividend.

Significantly, Ewen McKenzie has shown similar faith in his two rookies Jesse Mogg and Matt Toomua. A strong case was mounted to switch Israel Folau to fullback and inject Quade Cooper at fly half.

But in an admirable show of faith, the coach has given both youngsters a reprieve and a chance to address shortcomings from last week.

Toomua deviated from his Brumbies form adopting a very passive distribution role which only played into the hands of the All Blacks drift defence. He must be more direct for his backs to prosper.

Opposite Aaron Cruden utilized quick possession by taking the ball to the line and drawing in defenders. Replacement Tom Taylor has been schooled in a similar vein.

Fullback Mogg was thrown in at the deep end and looked overawed. But there is no doubting his immense talent and speed. He needs to relax and enjoy the occasion and run like the clappers when required.

Australian newspapers did not miss the Wallabies and their coach after last week’s 47-29 punishment. “Fool’s Gold”, “Kiwi Demolition” and “False Dawn” were just some of the unflattering headlines.

It was a comprehensive victory and there is nowhere to hide here in Wellington. The Wallabies have been roundly written off by the New Zealand media which frankly is a perfect scenario for the visitors.

To win the Wallabies have to dramatically lift their performance levels.  Smarter contestable kicking, greater urgency from the back three off the ball and cut the silly errors.

Up front, Australia needs to be more physical in defence and at the breakdown. Scott Fardy’s debut start is a big plus in that area. He was a star for the Brumbies and one of the standout locks in Super XV.

Mini colossus Michael Hooper needs like-minded support from his teammates. Without it, the Bledisloe Cup is going nowhere.

The half-time instruction to the All Blacks last week focused on patience and territory.  Patience in defence and play in Australia’s half.  It’s a message the Wallabies must replicate.